Julie Beischel’s article, “The Reincarnation of Mediumship Research,” offers excellent fodder for discussion of methods and problems in the study of mediumship and afterdeath communication. It is published in EdgeScience, vol. 3, April-June 2010/11, a free online journal of the Society for Scientific Exploration. In it, Beischel outlines the research problems that occur working with mediums and explains a few of the methodologies used at Windbridge Institute.
Researchers call the process by which mediums commune with the dead Anomalous Information Reception, or AIR. AIR means that mediums can pick up information about a discarnate without any prior knowledge of that discarnate and without any sensory feedback from the sitter. The sitter is the living person to whom the deceased discarnate is connected. Although from what I know of other research and from my own experience, the first condition, no prior knowledge of the discarnate, is not a problem. In fact, for me as a medium I would prefer not to know anything. When I do learn of something before a reading or séance, my tendency is to block it.
The second condition, no sensory feedback, is also something that I require whenever I work as a medium or do psychic readings. I do not allow the sitter to intervene, make comments or ask questions until the last 20 minutes of the session. Still, I have the energy of the sitter before me, an energy I can telepathically search and interpret for information. In afterdeath communication trials with mediums at the University of Arizona (see below), accuracy levels dropped when sensory feedback was totally withdrawn, that is, when the sitters were screened from the mediums and not allowed to respond. In my experience, the most significant factor of accuracy is the level of need of the sitter to make contact with the deceased or the need of the deceased to communicate with the sitter or with people at large. As far as I know, the element of desire and human emotion as a factor of accuracy has not yet been tested or measured. The complete withdrawal of sensory feedback would seriously diminish the impact of the sitter’s need on the medium.
Since the most common deception in mediumship is attaining knowledge of someone or something before the séance, which the medium then passes off as coming from the dead, careful investigators go to great lengths to make sure that the medium has no prior knowledge of the sitters participating in experiments. Early researchers have gone to extremes. The great Bostonian medium Leonora Piper, one of those who was cut, pricked, burned, and exposed to ammonia while in trance, was perhaps subject to the harshest scrutiny so far recorded. She conducted several thousand sessions over three decades around the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century under the stringent control of five experienced researchers from the Society for Psychical Research. These were all scholars in their own fields, including William James, a professor of Harvard and James Hyslop, a professor of Columbia University and a true skeptic. They brought hundreds of sitters to these sessions under false names. They hired detectives to follow Piper. While she was in England, she was kept in seclusion in the home of the physicist, Sir Oliver Lodge, and closely watched. She was not allowed to go out without a member of the Society for Psychical Research by her side. Her mail was read in order to be sure she was not receiving clandestine information. Lodge even went so far as to change his domestic staff during her stay to prevent her from learning anything about his private life. She was also forbidden to read newspapers around test days. In over three decades of this treatment and stressful examination, Piper never once came close to committing a fraud.
In modern times, the control measures are not so extreme and have taken a vastly different turn. Researchers at the Windbridge Institute have designed what they call a quintuple-blind protocol. This method has five separate levels of controls exerted on the medium, the sitter, and three experiment conductors, each of whom is blinded to different pieces of information. Most communication occurs on the phone, thus separating the medium from the sitter and the intermediary experiment conductors. The conductor calls the medium on the phone with the first name of a discarnate which was emailed to the conductor by another experimenter. Neither the medium nor the conductor have any other information about the deceased or the sitter. The conductor asks the medium specific questions about the deceased which are answered in the form of a reading of the deceased. The sitter is not permitted to hear it. The medium then does a second reading at a different time for a second discarnate and a second sitter. The two readings are then transcribed and all references to the discarnates’ names are removed. The two sitters then score each of the two readings for accuracy without knowing which is which. The experimenters don’t know either. This quintuple-blind protocol is meant to prevent information from leaking. Because the medium and the sitter never meet each other, it also prevents what is known as a cold reading. Cold readings are when a person makes guesses informed by the sitter’s verbal responses, body language, and so forth.
Regardless of the accuracy of the mediums’ statements, such clinical trials still do not furnish proof for genuine afterdeath communication or survival after death. In The Last Frontier (chapters 1-5) I go into the problems of proof at great depth, specifically with regard to afterdeath communication in chapter 2. Here I can only summarize. One explanation for how mediums retrieve information is called super-psi. The super-psi explanation poses that the medium may be getting information through clairvoyance (such as rewitnessing the death of the discarnate), precognition and/or telepathy, skills mediums and intuitives routinely use in doing readings on the living. Another common skill is remote viewing, which could be used to see death certificates or photos of the deceased, with or without the sitter.
Telepathy, in this instance, would be what is called direct mental interaction between living systems, or DMILS. DMILS between a sitter and a medium is a justifiable concern. Although I am risking voicing an unpopular view among survival advocates that DMILS can and does operate in readings and séances, normally it operates only to a certain degree. The better the medium and the stronger the contact, the less the medium will unwittingly fall back on information telepathically retrieved from the living sitter.
Distinguishing between genuine contact, which is after all largely a telepathic process, and DMILS is not always easy for researchers and mediums alike. The greatest and most infallible distinguishing factor for me is the physical sensation of the presence of the dead, a sensation I call the tingling. The tingling is pleasurable, focused, directional and occurs in the context of invoking the deceased, whether by just casually talking about the deceased or by deliberate invocation. It can be so strong that it makes me sway on my feet. It is also laden with information and emotion. What is especially remarkable about it is that the living “sitters” who are associated with the deceased also feel it, even if communication between us is conducted on the phone. Other mediums have noted differences in the way communication with the dead feels and the way clairvoyant activity feels.
An additional explanation for how mediums retrieve information is what Beischel calls the psychic reservoir hypothesis which maintains that all information is stored in the universe, like a “cosmic database,” formerly called the Akashic Records. Mediums draw information from this reservoir, rather than from the dead. I would add too, another closely related source of “public” information, mass consciousness.
Oddly enough, the philosopher Michael Sudduth has coined a term “survival psi,” a term that acknowledges survival of consciousness after death but assumes that mediums garner information by telepathic communication with discarnates. This is no news to me. Of course, that’s what we’re doing. The problem is, however, that our current view of telepathy, as thought transference from one mind to another alone, is not just extremely limiting, it is also inaccurate. I discuss broader meanings of how thought manifests in, and drives, nearly all paranormal phenomena in chapter 15 in The Last Frontier, a chapter devoted to telepathy.
For quite some time now, parapsychologists have been debating which hypothesis best explains so-called afterdeath communication through mediums, the survival after death hypthesis, the super-psi hypothesis or the reservoir/mass consciousness hypothesis. These last two have been combined by Beischel and her colleague, Adam Rock, to form a new term, “somantic psi.” So far, no agreement has been reached.
Clearly one of the chief problems in afterdeath communication research is that verification of information must inevitably come from the living, a requirement that in all cases admits the possibility of DMILS. I would like to see researchers move in new directions, directions that for me, reassure us that the dead we mediums think we are communicating with are in fact individual, independent identities that have survived. Those directions involve the before-mentioned physical sensations of the presence of the dead. Because they are electrical sensation, they can surely be measured. Another direction is studying the element of surprise and the unexpected, quite common characteristics of afterdeath communication. Furthermore, DMILS or any form of super-psi and reservoir hypotheses cannot explain afterdeath communication that takes the form of dialogue, even arguments. Nor can they explain instances in which the dead tell us about something that they and only they know, something that occurred after their deaths. Fortunately, the dedicated researchers at Windbridge Institute seem to be going in these directions.
More information about Windbridge publications, investigators, news, studies, opportunities, and certified research mediums is available at www.windbridge.org. Julie Beischel , PhD, is Director of Research at the Windbridge Institute for Applied Research in Human Potential.
The Windbridge Institute was founded by Beischell and her husband, Mark Boccuzzi, to continue research begun at the University of Virginia and the University of Arizona. The University of Arizona mediumship trials were directed by Gary Schwartz. Beischel was co-director. If you are interested in reading about these trials, see Schwartz’ book, The Afterlife Experiments, (Atria Books, 2002). I should mention that At Windbridge Institute, researchers on afterdeath communication uses only those mediums whose abilities have been clinically demonstrated.